They also make arrests, investigate tips, pick up truant teenagers, and appear in court.
“It’s a more complex role than standing at the front door with a gun on your hip,” said Fred Ellis, director of safety and security for Fairfax County schools.
A survey of the Washington area shows school resource officers work in nearly all high schools in the region.
The exception is Montgomery, which has six resource officers for 25 high schools. Security is provided mostly by more than 200 unarmed security staff members, with support from municipal and county police officers.
With budget hearings coming in the spring, proponents are pushing to double, up to 12, the number of designated school resource officers next year. Political support is greater after Sandy Hook, they say. County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) also is “looking for opportunities to expand, if resources permit,” a spokesman said.
Sandy Hook spurred a quick calculation of the cost for adding police to all 139 elementary schools in Fairfax: about $20 million a year. Fairfax — as well as Loudoun County and Alexandria — already has officers in all middle schools and high schools.
Few in Fairfax have urged a high-cost expansion. “Are we going to put police in all of our elementary schools, as opposed to investing in other things, like early childhood education?” asked School Board member Ted Velkoff (At Large).
At a public meeting in Arlington County last week, parents had numerous questions about police in schools. They asked about staffing, what typical days are like, and whether officers are capable of fending off an attack like the one in Newtown. Arlington, with 36 campuses, has 10 school resource officers.
Cpl. Kyle Anderson, the school resource officer at Arlington’s Wakefield High School, said he hoped his police training would help if extreme violence broke out. Now his days are often focused on getting to know students and their problems, which include bullying and theft.
Fights, thefts and electronic violations — threats or sexting — are especially common problems for school resource officers, said Sgt. Bill Fulton, who supervises officers in western Fairfax. He said officials make efforts to find officers with the right personality for the job. “Kids get comfortable with you, and they tell you things,” he said.
Nationally, school systems have cut back on school resource officers in recent years as budget pressures have mounted, said Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, which estimates that more than 10,000 such officers were stationed in the nation’s schools before the Newtown shootings. Numbers appear to be up in recent weeks, he said.